Seattle Now & Then: Mill Street, ca. 1887

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: A pre-1889 Great Fire look east on Mill Street (Yesler Way) from the west side of Commercial Street (First Ave. South). (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)
NOW: Jean Sherrard’s arresting look east on Yesler Way, on the east side of First Avenue, in Pioneer Square.

This week I wish to lead with Jean Sherrard’s “now.”  It is a noon-hour streetscape graced by a morning downpour.  The clean puddle on Yesler Way reflects the dappled clouds that fringe the 40-plus story Smith Tower, which is mirrored in this small flood nearly as brilliantly as the landmark’s terra-cotta tiles shine in the noon-hour sky.  Sunlight escaping across Yesler Way from the alley between First Avenue and Occidental Street draws a warm path through the scene’s center.

Looking east on Mill Street (Yesler Way) a few months earlier than the featured photo. Note that the distant east end of the Occidental Hotel (right-of-center) is in an earlier stage of construction than is t he featured photo.

The featured “then” at the top we have picked to ponder with Jean’s now is not “on spot.”  Rather, it was recorded a half-block west on Yesler Way.  I chose this “then” for a list of reasons, including repeat photography.   At the photograph’s center stand two of the landmarks that Seattle rapidly raised in 1883-84, early boom years for the growing town that in 1881 first took the prize for numbered citizens in Washington Territory.  This developing strip of Victorian landmarks on Mill Street (Yesler Way) continues south from this intersection on Commercial Street (First Ave. S.) and especially north on Front Street (First Ave.)  (If you wish to explore the blog dorpatsherrardlomont you will find many opportunities to keyword-explore all with the help of past now-and-then features and books compiled from them.)

Lawton Gowey looks east from a spot close to that taken by the photographer of the featured photo. Lawton visited the site on February 7, 1961.

This look into Pioneer Square, or Pioneer Place as it was first named, shows the photographer W.F. Boyd’s stamp on its flip side. Boyd arrived in Seattle not long before he recorded this view.  Beside his centered stamp there are additional messages written by other hands on the back, including “Photo taken day before fire,” meaning the Great Fire of June 6 1889.  But it cannot be. Instead we have chosen to date this circa 1887, largely on a lead from Ron Edge, who pointed out the work-in-progress extending the Occidental Hotel (with the flagpole and mansard roof) to fill the entire flatiron block bordered by Mill Street, James Street and Second Avenue.

Looking northwest thru Pioneer Place at the Yesler-Leary Building when it was new, ca. 1884.

An item copied by Michael Cirelli  from an 1883 feature in the Seattle Weekly Chronicle on August 23, 1883. . It is one of the many discoveries he shared from his enthused study of Seattle’s pioneer history. [CLICK TO ENLARGE]
Another grand construction stands center-left: the Yesler-Leary Building, with its showplace tower topped by a weather vane, at the northwest corner of Front and Mill Streets.  One of our “other reasons” for picking this “then” on Mill Street is the brick building in the shadows on the scene’s far right.  We ask readers smarter than we to name this three-story pre-fire landmark.  [Soon after we made this request, Ron Edge, a frequent contributor to this blog, came forward – or up – with the answer.  Continue on for both his correct identification and his evidence.]

While I have never seen any face-on photograph of this south side of Mill Street, west of First Ave., it does appear in a Seattle1884 birdseye map and in that year’s Sanborn map as well.  But neither of these early sources give it a name or address.  Perhaps it is the Villard House*, listed in the 1884 city directory at 15 Mill Street and “near the Steamboat Wharf,” aka Yesler’s Wharf.  C.S. Plough, the proprietor, dauntlessly advertised it with a mondo boast, “The Villard is the best and cheapest hotel in the city.”

  • RON EDGE’S 11TH HOUR DISCOVERY:  NOPE – NOT THE VILLARD HOUSE, BUT RATHER THE SCHWABACHER BUILDING.   
Here the “mystery” structure is revealed in a detail pulled by Ron Edge from a 1887 panorama taken of the city from Denny Hill. The SCHWABACHER BUILDING, not the Villard Hotel, is circled by Ron. Compare this facade to the one depicted in the 1884 etching above it. Note here, far left, the slender spire of the Yesler-Leary Building at the northwest corner of Front Street (First Ave.) and Mill Street (Yesler Way.)
RON EDGE also found this new report in the July,8,1883 Post-Intelligencer (its forebear) on the construction of the Schwabacher Building. As the frame for this clipping reveals, Ron copied this from a scan open to the public on-line in the Library of Congress.

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JEAN ASKS – ANYTHING TO ADD LADS.

Anything to add, lads?   Beyond what is revealed just above, Ron Edge’s 11th hour identification of the three-story brick building on the far of the week’s feature, we have more of our weekly same, which is more past feature’s from the neighborhood.

THEN: In Lawton Gowey’s 1961 pairing, the Smith Tower (1914) was the tallest building in Seattle, and the Pioneer Square landmark Seattle Hotel (1890) had lost most of its top floor. (by Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Seen here in 1887 through the intersection of Second Avenue and Yesler Way, the Occidental Hotel was then easily the most distinguished in Seattle. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: With the clue of the ornate Pergola on the right, we may readily figure that we are in Pioneer Square looking south across Yesler Way.

THEN: For the first twenty years of his more than 40 years selling tinware and other selected hardware, Zilba Mile's shop looked south across Yesler Way down First Ave. S, then known as Commercial Street.

Then: The Pacific House, behind the line-up of white-gloved soldiers, might have survived well into the 20th Century were it not destroyed during Seattle’s Great Fire of 1889. Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry

THEN: The Lebanon aka Jesse George building at Occidental and Main opened with the Occidental Hotel in 1891. Subsequently the hotel’s name was changed first to the Touraine and then to the Tourist. The tower could be seen easily from the railroad stations. It kept the name Tourist until replaced in 1960 with a parking lot. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN:In late 1855 the citizens of Seattle with help from the crew of the Navy sloop-of-war Decatur built a blockhouse on the knoll that was then still at the waterfront foot of Cherry Street. The sloop’s physician John Y. Taylor drew this earliest rendering of the log construction. (Courtesy, Yale University, Beinecke Library)

THEN: A winter of 1918 inspection of some captured scales on Terrace Street. The view looks east from near 4th Avenue. (Courtesy City Municipal Archives)

THEN: Frank Shaw’s pre-preservation visit to First Avenue South on February 26, 1961. He looks north from Main Street. (photo by Frank Shaw)

THEN: Looking north-northeast from the corner of Main Street and Occidental Avenue two or three weeks after the city’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy the Museum of History and Industry – MOHAI)

THEN: The original for this scene of a temporary upheaval on Mill Street (Yesler Way) was one of many historical prints given to the Museum of History and Industry many years ago by the Charles Thorndike estate. Thorndike was one of Seattle’s history buffs extraordinaire. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry.)

THEN:Ruins from the fire of July 26, 1879, looking west on Yesler’s dock from the waterfront. (Courtesy Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: F. Jay Haynes recorded this ca. 1891 look up the Seattle waterfront and it’s railroad trestles most likely for a report to his employer, the Northern Pacific Railroad. (Courtesy, Murray Morgan)

THEN: The Phoenix Hotel on Second Avenue, for the most part to the left of the darker power pole, and the Chin Gee Hee Building, behind it and facing Washington Street to the right, were both built quickly after Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889. (Courtesy: Museum of History and Industry.)

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